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ICONIC WOMEN: The Mino of Dahomey or the Dahomey ‘Amazon’ Warriors/Dahomey Amazons

From the late 17th century until the end of the 19th century, the Kingdom of Dahomey in the what is today the West African nation of Benin (sandwiched between Nigeria on the east and Togo to their west) an incredible regiment made up of only women, from within the Fon community, challenged and refuted gender norms by occupying spaces usually reserved for men. 

This all-women Fon army was originally established by Dahomian king King Houegbadja, the third king of Dahomeny, who ruled from 1645 to 1685, with the intention of having these women serve as elephant hunters known as ‘gbeto’. Later, during Houegbadja’s son King Agadja reign during the early 1700s he developed the gbeto into an established bodyguard and warrior unit who became known as the Mino meaning ‘our mothers’ in Fon - a name given to them by the men’s army of Dahomey. During this time, the Mino gained one of their first major successes in being part of the Dahomey army that defeated the neighbouring kingdom of Savi in 1727. Their incorporation into the army was done to increase the size of the Dahomey military, thus appearing larger and more intimidating to their opponents.

In King Ghezo’s time, between 1818 to 1858, great emphasis was put on Dahomey’s army and military units, perhaps due to the growing threat of the Transatlantic Slave Trade and the threat that neighbouring ethnic groups may have posed as a result of it. As a result, King Ghezo poured much of his resources into developing the Dahomian army, including the Mino, increasing their budget, formalizing their structure and training, and arming them with guns obtained from the Dutch through trade.

It is said that by the mid-19th century there were between 1,000-6,000 women in the Mino unit which comprised of both free Dahomian women and women who may have been taken as captives during war. Women in the Mino, sometimes referred to as ahosi (the king’s wives) were not permitted to marry or have children as the were considered wives of the king. This allowed the women to obtain positions of great power and influence as they were highly revered in Dahomian within the army - especially for their braver, and within society as well.

As European colonial forces began to move more aggressively throughout Africa in the 1800s, French forces on colonial campaigns in West Africa placed increasing pressure on the Dahomian Kingdom leading to an outbreak of war between French and Dahomian forces in 1890. The first Franco-Dahomian War broke out in that year with the Dahomey Army led by anti-colonialist King Behanzin. Part of the French forces consisted of Tirailleurs - French-trained Senegalese and Gabonese soldiers who had been recruited due to their countries being colonized by France. Despite the Dahomian army being greater in number, they were ill-equipped in comparison to the French and lost the war resulting in Dahomey being added to France’s colonial territories in West Africa.

This defeat also signified the disintegration of the Dahomian army and thus the women who the Europeans had referred to as the ‘Dahomey Amazons’. The last surviving Mino is thought to have been a woman named Nawi who died in 1979.

Someone needs to make a sci-fi animated fantasy or make a comic about or inspired by these women.

(sources 1, 2, 3)

 AUGUST: Highlighting African Women

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